Choosing plants

Plants are, and always will be, the heart and soul of every outdoor living space.

When it comes to planting, your selection of the right specimens is crucial to your garden's success. Where the plant is placed and how much care you can give it will dictate your choice. Get this right and the hard part’s over!

Step 1: Designing with shapes first and plants later

When I sit down to design an outdoor space—from a small balcony or courtyard, to a sprawling garden or resort—the plants I choose aren’t selected just because I like the look of them; one of the main priorities is that they serve a structural function. That is, they grow to become a roof or ceiling, work to divide or screen the space, or serve to accent and create drama.

The list at the right describes each of the main functions plants can play in creating the structure of your outdoor area. Understanding these functions will help you approach planting your garden like a designer!

Step 2: Choosing plants to suit your conditions

The second step—and a hallmark of all good planting design—is to look for a plant that will grow well in its place. This is where you need to do your research to consider such elements as dimensions and habit, light, temperature, water needs, soil fertility, salt tolerance and so on.

Your local nursery will be able to help you with making the right selection, as will botanical dictionaries and gardening books. The reason I wrote and compiled The Source Book – Second Edition, was to help you exactly with making these choices!

Step 3: Choosing plants to suit your style and lifestyle

If you’re still finding it hard to narrow down your plant choice, it’s time to apply more detailed design considerations to the final contestants. Ask yourself:
• Which plants best suit your garden theme; what’s the overall effect you’re after?
• Are particular colours important?
• Is seasonal shade an issue (i.e. deciduous to let winter light through or evergreen for all-year-round cover)?
• Do you have a preference for native or exotic plants?
• Does it matter if the sap is poisonous? (Very important with little kids around.)
• How quickly does the plant grow?
• Will it make a mess on the surface beneath?
• How much maintenance will the plant/s require?
• Finally, do you like it? There’s no point in planting something that fits the bill function-wise, but that you can’t stand the sight of!

For more information, pick up a copy of my book The Source Book – Second Edition, which contains all the valuable information you'll need to help make the best plant choices to suit your particular requirements, including hundreds of plant images and description of each individual plant's shape, growing requirements such as light, temperature and water, and maximum height. Buy a copy of The Source Book – Second Edition from the bookshop now.

In this section

This week's plant of the week!

Roofs and ceilings

Walls and screens





Painting with plants

Water plants

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